Hello From Flagstaff

By September 8, 2015Featured, News, Uncategorized

My wife told me this blog lacked some zip. I decided I was going to drink a beer to help with my wit, but I took some Benadryl instead – because I have some nasty poison ivy like rash all over my body.

I got the rash because I’ve been out running in nature. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been running! Not something I’ve been able to do as much of as I would have wanted over the past year or so. I have had lots of injuries, some more serious than others. Perhaps inevitably when so much of my life is focused on performance and because so much of my identity is shaped by my running, the injuries are followed by emotional ups and downs. I came across this article/blog written by British distance runner Andy Baddeley about his struggles with injury and depression. I was shocked at the many many parallels I was able to draw to my own experience over the past few years. Especially the part about having a new baby and that being so joyous, but then at the same time being so down about running. It was actually really good for me to read that article, it helped me deal with some of my ‘issues’ and reframe others.

A good quote that I’ll steal from Francine’s old coach Pete Grinbergs; ‘It means everything, but it means nothing’. Running is a sport in which you often have to be pretty selfish and we tend to get caught up in ourselves and how to achieve our goals. Having a family has helped put that in perspective. Sure my running is really important and when I’m in the moment I want to be my best and get the most out of myself. But when I walk in the door from a hard training session and my 10 month old daughter, Sasha, gives me a big smile and crawls my way, that training session I just completed – whether great or terrible – seems to mean a lot less. I think that little shift in mentality really helps me in both my athletic pursuits and the rest of my life. 


That brings me back to the nasty rash that has required the dose of Benadryl. I have spent the past 2 months navigating the endless dirt roads and trails of Flagstaff, AZ and somewhere along the way I came in to contact with a bit more of nature than my sensitive city boy skin can handle. But I’ll deal with it if it means I’m out there training everyday, which I have been now for at least a few weeks in a row. 

Getting over the injury hump this time around was a bit different than my past experiences. Many of my past injuries were pretty cut and dry in terms of diagnosis and prognosis; you have a stress fracture, rest for 6 weeks, start back slowly. But since January I’ve had a bunch of different things including a tear in the tendon that attaches to the top of the hamstring – a real pain in the butt that one was. Many of these injuries would come and go, allowing me to train for a few weeks before they crept up again and sidelined me for a few more weeks. This was tough to deal with as I had so much self doubt about my fitness, my bodies ability to recover, my motivation to continue, etc. Without any distinct deadline or light at the end of the tunnel I was becoming more and more frustrated and despondent about this whole running thing. Luckily I have some great people around me including my family and my sponsors Mizuno Canada and Forerunners, that support me no matter what happens. Knowing I had that support kept me going. But, before I knew it July had rolled around, I hadn’t really had any consistent training and was about to embark on this grandiose training camp to Flagstaff, AZ with my wife and baby daughter.

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This grand adventure to Arizona started as a part the of process in my pipe dream to break the Canadian marathon record at the 2015 Berlin Marathon. (Spoiler alert, that’s not going to happen, at least I won’t be the one breaking the record, because I won’t be on the start line!) I have a lot of pipe dreams when it comes to running. A lot of them are ridiculous, too over the top to tell readers about. But, that is one of the things that keeps me motivated and dedicated through all the ups and downs. Most of the time the dreams don’t come to fruition, but once in a while they do. Anyways, The whole point in being here is because Flagstaff is at 7,000ft above sea level. The air is more rarefied the higher you go in elevation and to adapt to this the body increases the blood volume or something like that. Whatever the mechanism is, there is performance benefit to training here especially for endurance athletes. I like to tell people it just makes you tougher – because you bloody well suffer in the thin air. 

One of the other advantages of being here is that I have worked closely with Dr. John Ball in Phoenix, AZ. When I arrived in July my body was still a mess and I wasn’t really able to train much at all. But, working with John has really helped me to sort things out. I probably spent as much time in his clinic as I did actually running in the first few weeks here. It certainly hasn’t been an overnight fix. That is something both my coach, Richard Lee, and John have continually tried to drill into me. So, now I putter away at a some ridiculous looking exercises John has given me, both before and after running each day. But along the way he’s taught me more about how my body functions now and how it should function optimally than I ever really cared to think about previously.

I can now say that I am really enjoying running again and am trying to enjoy the entire process. For so long my running has been about the end result. But with so many injuries I’ve found myself really far behind where I wanted to be and throwing myself against a wall to try to catch up. I’ve been able to be a bit more patient this time around, in part because the altitude here has prevented me from going out and hammering workouts before I’m really prepared to do so. And in part because I think I’m slowly learning that if I take small steps I can actually still make progress, not huge leaps, but still…progress.

Otherwise, life up here is pretty good. Francine works harder at her PhD and some new research at NAU than I can fathom and Sasha continues to be a little spark plug. She has been getting in some good training since we’ve been here too. She passed her swimming lessons with flying colours and has been crawling around like a maniac!

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In other news the sport of track & field has had it’s ups and downs this summer. There have been huge allegations of systematic doping in Russia and the coverup of doping across the world by the international federation that oversees the sport. In more positive news Canada had a fantastic World Championships, bringing home 8 medals (its best ever). The NCAA Athletics Canada’s new athlete development program is really working! Lastly, I’m really looking forward to the fall marathon season. I have a lot of athletes I coach running various marathons across the globe. Many of Canada’s top marathoners will also be toeing the line at big city marathons this fall; Reid Coolsaet (who has already provisionally qualified for the Olympics) will be running the Berlin Marathon. A few weeks later Robbie Watson will be toeing the line in Chicago looking for a sub 2:12:50. And a week after that Eric Gillis, Matt Loiselle, Sammy Jibril and Lanni Marchant will race in Toronto with high hopes of running times that will qualify them for next summer’s Olympics in Rio. Hopefully a few other ladies like Rachel Hannah and Kim Doerksen, who are tackling the marathon will also have a go!

I have hopes of being on the starting line for some races this fall too – with low expectations, all as part of the process. Maybe my next update will even be race report! Thanks for reading.